Hope and skepticism as Moscow launches vaccination campaign

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Moscow (AFP)

Vera Stepanova nervously waits in a Moscow clinic for her turn to be vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V.

The 73-year-old has spent a sleepless night in anticipation and says she has no doubts about taking the vaccine.

“I am so afraid of this disease. We have to protect ourselves, ”said the retired school principal, her face covered with a surgical mask. “I waited my turn and came with pleasure, hoping all will be well. ”

Stepanova was among a group of older Russians receiving the vaccine this week as Moscow launched a campaign to vaccinate residents over the age of 60.

For many, vaccination is a relief, a chance to leave their homes or to see their grandchildren without fear.

“I am tired of staying at home. I would like to get antibodies faster so I can walk around, ”says Georgy, husband of 82-year-old Stepanova.

But not everyone is in line for Sputnik V.

Many Russians are deeply skeptical of the vaccination – a huge hurdle for the country in a week which also saw officials confirm that its death toll from the virus is more than three times higher than previously reported.

– ‘Apprehension, mistrust’ –

An Ipsos poll this week showed that only 43% of Russians want to be vaccinated, compared to 69% in the United States and 65% in Germany.

Other polls in Russia put the figure at just 38%.

“It’s worrying,” conceded Irina Shestakova, specialist in infectious diseases, in an interview with the RIA Novosti news agency.

“The countries that win will be those that immunize the majority of the population as quickly as possible,” she said.

Lev Gudkov, director of the Russian voting center in Levada, said part of the concern was fueled by a propaganda campaign around Sputnik V, which President Vladimir Putin announced as the world’s first officially registered vaccine in August.

The announcement sparked concerns that Moscow was rushing to win the race to produce a vaccine, an idea reinforced by the fact that it was named after the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 in stronger from the Cold War.

“This massive campaign arouses great apprehension and mistrust,” Gudkov said.

“People understand that for Vladimir Putin the vaccine is part of Russia’s confrontation with the West. ”

Skepticism has also been fueled by concerns over official coronavirus figures in Russia, where, despite a huge number of cases, the official death rate has remained relatively low.

The government has defended its methodology of only counting Covid deaths confirmed by autopsies, but a Levada survey in November showed only 27% of Russians trusted the official calculations.

– ‘No alternative’ to the vaccine –

A tally of excess deaths so far in 2020 released this week by state statistics agency Rosstat showed more than 186,000 people had died from the virus.

That’s three times the death toll of 57,019 on the official daily tally and places Russia third in the world for deaths from Covid.

As a second wave of infections – which shows no signs of slowing down – hits Russia, authorities have failed to reimpose the type of strict lockdown seen here last winter or in effect in parts of Europe.

Instead, they are redoubling their efforts to bring skeptical citizens to clinics, with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin saying this week that vaccination is the only way forward.

“You need to get vaccinated. There is no alternative, ”he said.

The numbers show that the end is not yet in sight. In a city of over 12 million people, only 50,000 people in Moscow have so far received Sputnik V and only 70,000 are registered for vaccination.

At the Moscow clinic with the Stepanovs, her retired colleague Alla Kolosova says she herself believes in her government’s vaccine.

“I’m a bit old-fashioned Soviet fashion, so I’m used to trusting our meds,” said the 74-year-old. “I had no doubts about whether or not to get the vaccine. ”

video-or-pop / jbr / mm / gd

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